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BSU campus goes tobacco-free: Use of tobacco will be allowed at university-sanctioned American Indian spiritual, cultural ceremonies

A student-led initiative led to a policy signed by President Richard Hanson Tuesday declared Bemidji State University a tobacco-free zone. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Bemidji State University is now officially a tobacco-free campus.

BSU President Richard Hanson gave his stamp of approval on the new tobacco-free campus policy Tuesday, which states no one will be allowed to use, distribute or sell tobacco in university buildings, on campus, events or in university-owned, rented or leased vehicles. Free distribution of tobacco products on campus or at university-sponsored events is also prohibited.

The policy does not, however, prohibit the use of tobacco in a university-sanctioned American Indian spiritual or cultural ceremony held on campus.

In April 2010, a bill was signed by the Bemidji State University Student Association Student Senate that called for new guidelines for tobacco use on campus. These included a 30-foot no smoking rule near building entrances effective August 2010, a new designated smoking area policy effective January 2011 and the creation of a policy that would make BSU 100 percent smoke free by May 2011.

Previously the BSUSA Student Senate conducted a survey on tobacco use and exposure at BSU. It found 93 percent of the respondents considered second-hand smoke a health hazard and 77 percent of the respondents agreed they are exposed to second-hand smoke at BSU.

A BSU Tobacco Free Campus Work Group was then created to develop a policy with the goal of making the campus safer and healthier for students, employees and the public. One year later, the policy was approved by administration.

The BSUSA Student Senate released its reasoning behind the policy, stating it is about respect for oneself, others and the environment; the health of students, faculty and staff at BSU; and supporting BSU's signature themes of environmental stewardship and civic engagement as well as students' personal well-being.

Ashley Tenney, co-president of the BSUSA Student Senate and co-chair of the Tobacco Free Campus Work Group, said student leaders will be educating students about the new policy through the end of this school year.

Tenney said she was pleased with the process that took place over the course of two school years.

"You can't please everyone, but I think most people are for it," she said. "The student senate brought it forward a year ago and it was put into place one year later. It was a really quick turnaround."

As a reminder to the public, Tenney said the policy is in effect for everyone, not just students at BSU.

"I think it will make the campus healthier," Tenney said. "There will also be less litter from cigarette butts."

According to a letter written by Hanson, which was recently published on the BSU online bulletin, BSU enforcement will initially be "soft" with a firmer form of enforcement in place at the beginning of the fall 2011 semester. Hanson stated he will appoint a team that will enforce the policy.

"With only a month left of school, we just want students to be aware of the policy," Tenney said. "We're not out to get everyone with enforcement."

Tobacco is defined in the policy as any lighted cigarette, cigar, pipe, bidi, clove cigarette, electronic cigarettes and any other smoking product. The policy also includes smokeless or spit tobacco, also known as dip, chew, snuff or snus, in any form.

Currently, tobacco use in private BSU vehicles is permitted as long as tobacco users "demonstrate respect for individuals and the environment." Tobacco use for instructional purposes in laboratory and classroom instruction will be permitted, but all research that involves the use of tobacco on campus must be approved by the president.

In the future if a person is "caught" smoking on campus, he or she will be told of the BSU tobacco-free policy. If an employee continues to violate the policy, the person will be reported to that person's supervisor. If a student continues to smoke on campus, the student will be reported to the University Conduct Officer.